Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

Emily Mastellone-Snyder

I grew up on 100 acres in a town of 200 people in rural Massachusetts, and feel fortunate to have had the space to roam free and grow with the land. My mother is a passionate gardener, and her love of growing food and flowers clearly influenced my own love of gardening. As much as I loved where I grew up, I was also eager to see more of the world and experience life outside of my small community.

When it came time to go to college, I always thought I’d go out to California, but I instead found myself an hour and a half away from home at Skidmore College in upstate New York. It was here that I really discovered my passion for environmental issues and working with children.

For two summers in college, I volunteered in rural northern Guatemala. Here, I worked alongside an ecological park and women’s cooperative to help start a library. Inspired to learn more about Central America, I spent a semester abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico with a program studying Grassroots Development and Social Change. I spent a month in independent study looking at the effects of genetically modified corn on the social and biological diversity of Mexico. In both places, I lived with host families and had exciting, eye-opening experiences by truly immersing myself in the culture and language.

In the summer before my senior year of college, I decided it was time for me to try out life in California, so I went to work at Hidden Villa Summer Camp in Los Altos Hills, CA. What a formative summer this was! My experience there opened me up to the world of outdoor, farm, and garden-based environmental education–after that, I was hooked. My first job out of college was as a teacher naturalist at San Mateo Outdoor Education Program deep in the redwood forest in La Honda, CA. I was mesmerized the moment I arrived to live, teach, work and play there. I spent the next three years there, in awe of the redwood trees and the coast, spending every free moment teaching myself about the ecology of the land. This is also where I learned many silly and educational songs to sing and play on the guitar.

With summers off, I decided to pursue my interest in farming, and WWOOFed (volunteered) and apprenticed at farms in Alaska and in California. From there, it was clear that I loved having my hands in the dirt, and I went on to immerse myself in farming and gardening at the UCSC Farm and Garden program in Santa Cruz. During my time as a farm apprentice, I volunteered to lead some field trips with Life Lab, and after that, I had always hoped that I’d get a job there some day—and here I am! After graduating the Farm and Garden program, I started a small, part-time ecological landscaping business in Santa Cruz.

I worked a season as a naturalist at the Pigeon Point Environmental Education Program located at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero, CA. Here, I taught K-8 groups marine ecology, leading tidepooing sessions and weekly trips to visit elephant seals–as well as putting on a weekly elephant seal musical puppet show. I went on to direct the bilingual North Coast Teen Center in Davenport, CA, where I created programing for empowerment, health & wellness, and homework help for low-income teens. I also coordinated the Live Earth Farm Discovery Program (LEFDP) in Watsonvile, CA, on a 130-acre organic family farm. At LEFDP, I led farm-based field trips for school groups and ongoing programs for all ages. Favorite activities were visiting and caring for the large flocks of chickens (and chicks) and the herd of milking goats (and kids), as well as working in the fields and education garden.

One of my favorite parts of my job at Life Lab is seeing the awe and wonder in children’s faces when they try (and like!) a food for the first time, or make a connection about where their food comes from. I especially love leading children in singing songs about food, gardening, ecology, or just about anything. I have the pleasure of getting to work with great crews of motivated and creative interns and camp counselors who bring the magic of the garden alive for children!

When I’m not at work, you can find me in my garden at home, or hiking or backpacking somewhere beautiful. You might also find me in my kitchen, cooking or preserving food, or making music. 

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It takes a village... ... See MoreSee Less

Thanks to the Whole Kids Foundation for the generous grant and to Big Creek Lumber for your donation to the Amesti Eagles' Garden. With the generous support of Life Lab and other community supporters, our students are receiving the gift of hands-on Next Generation Science Standards and learning about healthy eating in a beautiful outdoor classroom!

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Do you ever wonder what is living just below the surface of the San Lorenzo River? Join the Coastal Watershed Council and Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History for tomorrow's Exploring the San Lorenzo River tour and find out!

We will be meeting at 8:30 on the Santa Cruz Riverwalk next to Mike Fox park and will be seining for fish and collecting benthic macroinvertebrates aka bugs! We will learn about the organisms that live in the San Lorenzo River and their food webs. This tour is open to all ages. You can sign up online or by emailing CWC River Scientist Alev Bilginsoy at abilginsoy@coastal-watershed.org. Learn more at coastal-watershed.org/what-we-do/exploring-san-lorenzo-river-series/.
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At a @soilbornfarms school garden conference, in a workshop on trees reminded me of this incredible Radiolab Podcast podcast. Listen to this one. ... See MoreSee Less

Forests feel like a place of great stillness but dig deeper and there’s a hidden world beneath your feet as busy and complicated as a city. 

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LIFE LAB on MAUI! so AnB stopped sugar production on Maui this year, there is tons of land available to lease and they are now taking offers. If farmers or farm educators won't get to it, it will turn into development, there are not enough offers from farmers and we need more, so please pass this on to those that are interested. To speak to An B need to look them up and make an offer. They are taking offers now! ... See MoreSee Less

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Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside

Life Lab has been the most innovative and relevant organization in this field. From providing the best curriculum to their cutting edge professional development, we have relied on Life Lab as our go to organization for support, ideas, and collaboration.

Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps

Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.

Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary

Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.

Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom

Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.